In all human endeavors, an attitude of optimism, expectancy, and enthusiasm is the difference between success and failure. A positive attitude creates motivation to take action, while a negative attitude leeches your emotional energy.

Most people let outside events determine their attitude. When things are going well, they're in a good mood; when things go poorly, they're in a bad mood. That's a recipe for failure, because when things go sour, you can easily get trapped in a downward spiral.

Let me explain.

Most people are at their best--positive, energized, and motivated--when things are going well. Their success creates a positive attitude, which in turn creates more success. That's an upward spiral, like an eagle rising on updrafts.

Similarly, most people become negative, depressed, and unmotivated when things seem to be crumbling around them. Their failure creates a negative attitude, which in turn creates more failure. That's the downward spiral, like water draining down a toilet.

Obviously, it's a wonderful thing to get caught in an upward spiral, because achieving more success seems effortless. However, if you let events create your attitude, a setback can throw you into a downward spiral, where more failure seems inevitable.

To break yourself out of a downward spiral, you must be able to create a positive attitude even in the face of huge challenges. And that's only possible when you disconnect your attitude from outside events and remain positive even when things look grim.

In a conversation I had a few years ago with Jeff Keller, author of Attitude Is Everything, he said there are five ways to do this:

1. Start your day on a positive note.

The first few minutes after you awake are hugely important to your attitude throughout the day. If you start your day with a news report about all the horrible things that happened overnight, you're setting the tone for your entire day.

Rather than tuning in to the negativity, create a positive momentum. Read an inspirational book immediately after rising. Listen to motivational podcasts rather than the news while driving to work.

2. Surround yourself with positive thoughts.

When I was a teenager, I was deeply embarrassed by the fact that the driver's area of my mother's car sported half-a-dozen Post-it notes on which she'd written positive affirmations and quotes that she found motivating.

From my perspective today, I understand that those Post-its were tools that allowed her to maintain a positive attitude, which eventually led her to become a top regional salesperson for Bristol-Myers.

Keep a Post-it pad handy at all times. Whenever you hear a quote that makes you feel positive and motivated, write it down. Post it on your screen, dashboard, headboard, or bathroom mirror.

3. Limit your exposure to pessimists.

Pessimists are energy vampires. They secretly hate and envy people who can remain positive during difficult times. Because their misery craves company, they'll try to drain you dry with their complaints and negative spin.

Unfortunately, it's not practical to completely avoid pessimists in many work environments. However, it is always possible to reduce your exposure to them.

Don't hang with pessimists at the water cooler or lunchroom. As much as possible, keep them out of your meetings. Be "way too busy to talk" if they stop by to chitchat.

When you absolutely must interact with pessimists, limit your conversation to the business at hand. Don't get sucked into a gripe session or pity party.

4. Welcome your mistakes.

It's easy to get discouraged when you screw up. However, I have found that I have always learned far more from my mistakes than from those rare times when I hit the proverbial home run.

More important, though, making mistakes is a natural consequence of taking risks, and if you don't take risks, you'll remain stuck in the same place.

Sometime in the future, maybe I'll write a post about some of the bonehead moves I've made in my career. At the time, they were cringe-worthy, but now I see them as incredibly valuable experiences.

5. Adopt a positive vocabulary.

I've written about this in the past, but it bears repeating now. Neuroscience has proved that the words you use to describe an experience programs the way your brain remembers and interprets that experience.

Therefore, it's vastly in your interest to:

  1. Avoid negative phrases like "I can't," "It's impossible," and "This won't work."
  2. Use positive phrases like "Let's have some fun with this" and "Go for it."
  3. Don't complain about stuff you can't control, like politics and the economy.
  4. Focus conversations on stuff that you can influence, like your company's sales.
  5. Stop griping about your personal problems. You're at work, not in therapy.
  6. Respond enthusiastically when asked "How's your day?" or "How's it going?"

These seem like little things, but your spoken and unspoken vocabulary are a huge part of how you interpret the world, and therefore how you feel about it.

There is nothing in your career, indeed in your life, that has a more positive outcome than taking conscious control of your attitude. It empowers you to break out of a downward spiral, while making your upward spirals longer and higher than ever before.